Science is often presented as a set of propositions to affirm. On those terms, the existence of God becomes yet another such proposition, and all science can offer is a yes or a no. Andy Walsh thinks science offers more. In Faith across the Multiverse, Walsh writes,
Telescopes made it possible to explore the profoundly big: planets and solar systems and galactic clusters in every direction. Microscopes opened up the world of the infinitesimally small, microbes and viruses, atoms and quarks. We may not know what God-scale is (or if “scale” is even relevant), but surely pushing our minds beyond the human scale can help us begin to comprehend it. That is why I think science has the possibility to offer a rich world of metaphors for those of us who want to know God better, deeper, more.
As Walsh so eloquently expresses, there are so many more connections between the natural world and God’s presence than we’d expect. By enriching our language with new concepts, science can help us know God, rather than merely know of him. This is the pattern established in the Bible; the psalmists, the prophets, the epistle writers, they all use language about nature to help us understand God. Even Jesus relied on metaphors from the natural world when he wanted to explain the kingdom of God.
To try and simplify this idea, I’m happy to introduce to you Andy Walsh. In the following interview, you’ll find 10 of our burning questions answered by him about his book, as well as answers to some fun questions. We hope you’ll find yourself excited to get your hands on a copy of Faith across the Multiverse or intrigued to go out into the world in search of a fresh perspective.
1. How would you describe Faith across the Multiverse to someone who wants to know what the book is about in your own words?
This book is what happens when you drop the Mentos of comic books and sci-fi stories into a bottle of science and faith soda. Suddenly a whole new set of interactions become available, and hopefully something exciting happens. Science and theology are both full of rich ideas with lots of overlapping connections, but they can be a little abstract. So let’s add some familiar stories to help catalyze the conversation.
2. The term Weltschmerz seems important to understanding your entire book. Could you briefly summarize what it means and what it has to do with the overall trajectory of Faith across the Multiverse?
Weltschmerz is literally “world-pain” in German; it represents the sadness and dissatisfaction that comes with seeing how the world deviates from its best possible version. It can carry negative connotations, but I think there’s a kernel of hopefulness inside of it. If you can see a better world in a specific and detailed way, then it might be possible to transform the world towards that vision.
I also think there’s a lot of Weltschmerz in the Bible; the Psalms and the prophets in particular express deep lament for different circumstances that have turned out poorly. And yet the Bible holds out a hope for transformation and the day when a better world will become reality. That’s a sentiment I wanted to convey in my book as well.
3. Was there any chapter or section that you enjoyed writing most? Which chapter challenged you?
Chapter 3 [Sovereignty in a Time of Spanners] discusses chaos theory and grace and Chapter 6 [The Entropic Principle] explores entropy and dying to live; those were the metaphors that have spoken the loudest to me. Plus, Chapter 3 deals with my favorite comic book story of all time.
Chapter 9 [Redeemable Ant-Man] was tricky because it touches on consciousness, which is an area where science is still trying to find the best models and language just to describe what we experience. As a result, it’s probably the most exploratory chapter. Fortunately, it also includes some ant biology, and ants are great explorers; if nothing else, hopefully you’ll learn something from them.
4. Were there any chapters that made you rethink some of your own beliefs as you were writing them?
Articulating a way of thinking about grace has made me pay more attention to when and how I extend grace to others. That’s maybe less of a change in belief as a change in how I live out my belief.
One question I found myself coming back to a lot while writing the book is how God interacts with his creation. I talk in several places about the idea of God having plans for creation, about what those plans might look like and how we can participate in them. In formulating those ideas, I kept bumping into questions of how God actually realizes those plans, and specifically how that relates to the patterns we see in the world that we describe with science. I don’t think I have any great answers yet, but through writing I discovered some of my old answers don’t really make sense to me anymore. And that’s a kind of progress; ruling out all the wrong answers is one way to get to the right one.
5. What scientific concept absolutely blows your mind and why?
The animal kingdom is full of creatures capable of dramatic transformations, from regeneration to metamorphosis. The ability to change so drastically and yet retain some sense of self intrigues me, and the biology of it is fascinating too. And we still have a lot to learn about it all; I’m excited to see what we discover now that the axolotl genome has been sequenced, for example (https://www.nature.com/articles/nature25458).
6. As I was reading, I was amazed at the depth of your ideas, especially in regards to your discussion on the divinity and humanness of Jesus. How did you come up with the idea to compare that with light waves (from chapter four)?
Thanks! That particular analogy came from several places. First is Jesus himself, who compares himself to light. Then, as I mention in the book, the physicist-theologian Polkinghorne has written about how the history of quantum physics—which includes the study of light waves—and the history of theology around Jesus follow similar patterns. And then finally, there is the notorious challenge of finding a metaphor that accurately reflects the Trinity. There’s a great YouTube cartoon that goes through all the popular metaphors and points out how they all also reflect one or another unorthodox version of the Trinity (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQLfgaUoQCw).
For me, one of the core challenges of trying to understand the Trinity is that 1+1+1=1 strongly goes against our mathematical intuition. And at some point, it clicked for me that adding waves sort of does work that way. It’s not a perfect analogy; I’m not claiming to have solved a 2,000-year-old puzzle. But I do think it can be helpful, and it was another connection between Jesus and light.
7. Your references to all sorts of media—TV shows, movies, video and role-playing games, and the like—make this book a treasure trove of nuggets of fun memories. To an outsider, it may seem kind of crazy to weave in fictional narratives into the very serious conversation about science and faith. Were you particularly satisfied with the way a reference melded into the discussion of a particular topic? If so, which one and why?
I’m not sure it isn’t kind of crazy. But the reality is that serious conversations about science and faith are woven into all sorts of stories. So it seems only fair to flip that script.
I was especially pleased when I realized working on Chapter 6 [The Entropic Principle] how the villains of The Dark Knight connect to entropy in different ways. I have no idea if the filmmakers intended the connection, but once it clicked for me I was very impressed with how well the story illustrates how thermodynamic entropy relates to information entropy.
8. If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would you choose and why?
In thinking through a lot of options, writer Kieron Gillen stood out as someone who has written a lot of my favorite comics in recent years. He has a lot of thoughts about how to tell stories and the role stories play in our communities, and he also studied biology for a while, so I imagine we’d find a lot to talk about. Plus he’s a fan of tabletop games, so maybe after dinner we could get a round of Pandemic in.
9. Any upcoming projects you’re working on?
I’m still looking forward to seeing where this book goes and what fruit it bears, so I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. I’m hoping to create some supplementary videos and interactive tools for folks who want to go deeper with the science in the book; look for those on FaithAcrosstheMultiverse.com. And I blog every Wednesday about science and faith for InterVarsity at https://blog.emergingscholars.org/author/andy/. Between all of that and my day job, I think I’ll be busy for a while.
10. Final thoughts or things you’d like to share with your readers or potential readers?
I hope some readers find the ideas in my book worthwhile. But even more than that, I hope it inspires folks to create and share new ways for expressing whatever they believe. I look forward to discovering what you all come up with!
Andy Walsh completed his postdoctoral fellowship at Carnegie Mellon University in computational biology with a focus on viral evolution. He earned a PhD in molecular microbiology and immunology from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, where his research ranged from laboratory and field biology to statistical and computational analysis. Andy serves as science writer for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Emerging Scholars blog, where he contributes weekly articles on science and faith. His writing can also be found on the Patheos network and in The Behemoth, a Christianity Today publication.
For more information about Faith across the Multiverse, visit our website.